Calling for Help, Far From Home…

What to Look for in Medical-Evacuation Services

December 24, 2005

Coverage comes free with American Express Platinum and Centurion cards and Citigroup’s Chairman card, though each carries a hefty annual fee. Or, you can sign up with a plan from travel-insurance providers and others that offer it on a stand-alone basis, including MedJetAssist, Air Ambulance Card, Travel Guard International, Medex Assistance and International SOS Assistance. However, there are two crucial questions to ask. First, how far will a service come to get you? If, say, you’re going on a walking safari in Africa, this might matter. MedJetAssist and Air Ambulance Card need an airstrip, while Medex, Travel Guard and International SOS say they can come get you anywhere.

Second, where will a service take you? The AmEx and Citi services transport you to the nearest, most appropriate medical facility for your condition. They decide where that is. MedJetAssist and the Air Ambulance Card promote the fact that you can go anywhere you want, including to your hospital at home. To qualify, you need to be sick or hurt enough that you’re admitted to a hospital on both ends. Other providers may have provisions to get you home eventually if you’ve been moved elsewhere. (They, too, generally won’t move you if you have something minor, like a sprained ankle.)

Other questions: If you’re traveling alone with kids and get injured, will the company fly the kids home or fly someone in to be with them? And if you’re alone, will the provider fly a relative to be with you?

Are there restrictions related to pre-existing conditions, age or extreme sports?

Travel-insurance brokers like insuremytrip.com can help sort the options, but it’s up to you to determine your risk tolerance. International SOS says that among its corporate travelers, intervention is necessary on one in every 20,000 travel days.

Medex notes that musculoskeletal cases (such as fractures and torn ligaments) draw the most calls, followed by gastrointestinal illness. The truly risk-tolerant traveler might do without coverage entirely, though international evacuations could cost $75,000 or more. Your usual health insurance probably won’t reimburse you, though it might pay for the medical care itself. Travelers who consider themselves more accident-prone might use an AmEx or Citi card or buy a policy that offers similar coverage. Meanwhile, MedJetAssist says many customers already have AmEx cards; they use MedJetAssist because they want the option of going home pronto.

If you seek total peace of mind, follow their lead. Just make sure there’s a plan
to get you safely to an airstrip.

Published in the Wall Street Journal

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